We’ve all experienced it, probably several times a week, or perhaps more.
Myself, I experience it far more commonly I’m sure than the average person. For some reason awkward experiences, people, situations just seem to be drawn to me, like I’m some kind of giant COME AT ME AWKWARD magnet.
Oh yay you might think. Indeed that was my reaction. A bit of a, ‘Oh no, here we go again’, response, but I suffer on dear reader, perhaps in the hope that if I suffer, I can save someone else the trouble of the awkwardness.
With that in mind, I present, for your ‘viewing’ pleasure, The Paris Mishap.
Oh Paris, such a lovely city, home to snail-consuming, wine-drinking Parisians. I was lucky enough to finally visit the City of Lights as a gift for my 21st.
So I boarded the Eurostar, and dragged my very not french speaking father along with me for the ride, to go off and explore a city that I’d been dreaming of visiting since I was, well much smaller than I am now.
As an English native speaker, and proficient franglais enthusiast (albeit accidentally), I assumed that my rather slippery grasp of the french language would be proficient enough to navigate and communicate freely.
Oh I was wrong.
I’d been told that most French people spoke English, and would be able to communicate with me. Nope. Which was ok, because I’m not a complete beginner at speaking French. But dear dad, whom I do love dearly, was just too fast at attempting to communicate.
Day 1 was a passable attempt at not being immediately labelled as tourists. Other than the large camera that dad was sporting we blended seamlessly into the throngs of back-pack wearing, sunglass waving OBVIOUS tourists, marching around with a slightly disgusted look, as a subtle attempt to ‘distance’ ourselves from the poor confused selfie snapping sheep. Did it work? Probably not.
Day 2 however, well.
In hindsight, I should’ve known. Awkwardness finds me so frequently, that I should’ve known that being in France wouldn’t make me immune; but I naively hoped that I’d be able to casually swap between my two languages of choice.
The scene is a busy, local cafe in the theatre district. Trendy, with a slightly dirty, roughed up look that seems to be in vogue. Large blackboards advertise the daily offerings: Breakfast 3 euros, 5 euros, jus d’orange, un cafe, croissant. Stomachs grumbling, we barely glance at the blackboard and wander inside the cafe. A group of elderly men reading newspapers glance suspiciously at us from a table in the corner of the cafe; clearly they’ve recognised that we’re not quite blending in. I open my mouth and ask for two, for breakfast please.
You’re probably wondering how I could muck this up, I mean it’s just ordering breakfast.
But then, the girl behind the bar says “Of course, what would you like?”
There’s no menu inside. I freeze. My brain spins as I try and remember the options on the menu. Dad sees me freeze, and his fatherly instinct calls on him to try and take control of the situation.
“Do you speak English?”.
Panicked look from the girl behind the bar.
My voice has deserted me, but I manage to awkwardly mumble an order for orange juice, croissants and coffee, trying to insert as much french as possible so as to attempt to save some face.
Breakfast itself is nothing special. Freshly squeezed orange juice, a crisp and flaky croissant, and an espresso.
Unfortunately there’s two problems.
- I don’t drink black coffee, but I’ve already screwed up and had to try and order in broken english and broken french. So I just grin and sip at the espresso, it’s delicious, but I know I’m going to be shaking later.
- Mortifyingly, every single person in the cafe heard my father and I fail magnificiently at ordering food. So instead of the sophisticated, mysterious strangers, we are instead THOSE people, who don’t speak french. Which has marked us as not THEM.
Ordinarily, i’d just shrug it off; I mean it’s not like they know me, so who are they to judge. But here, in this little cafe, it feels like i’m in a cage of eyes. I sip at my espresso, inwardly cringing as the newspaper clutching old men silently stare at us. I can feel the weight of their stares, asking “Who are you, and why have you dared to poison our ears with English this morning?”.
So I nervously nibble away at my croissant, and wait patiently for Dad, who is enviously unaware of the fact that every single person in the room is judging us.I could honestly have just happily sunk into the floor.
I can honestly say I have never been so happy to leave a cafe before in my life. Thanks awkwardness. Sigh. Oh well, it was probably too much to hope for to be perfect the first time.
And so happened the Paris Mishap.
At least I can say that I now wholly remember exactly what I should have said, word for word instead of freezing in place. Thanks brain. But such is the awkwardness curse.
Until next time,